There are troubles at the border that could literally dig up some dirt.
Authorities in the U.S. are concerned about large groupings of feral pigs from Alberta and Saskatchewan that could make their way to the Montana border, wreaking havoc on the landscape.
According to reports, there have been a number of sightings of the hogs close to the U.S.-Canadian border.
Often referred to as “rototillers,” the animals are considered to be the worst kind of invasive species. On their quest to uproot food, they are capable of demolishing farm crops, forests, open fields, properties and even historic sites like monuments. In the U.S., they do an estimated $1.5 billion in crop damage every year.
Jeanine Neskey is an extension specialist with the USDA Wildlife Services in Colorado. She explains that the animals can impact livestock through predation, agitation, and spreading disease, calling them “one of the world’s most destructive invasive species.”
In Saskatchewan, the person tasked with targeting the animals says they only get a handful of calls about the pests every year from farmers and municipalities.
Darby Warner is executive director of insurance with Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation, which has run the wild boar program in the province since 2015. They are tasked with investigating sightings of the animals and if found, euthanizing them.
In 2017, they collaborated with the US Department of Agriculture to put GPS collars on so-called “judas” pigs, in order to track their activities, and find other pigs.
“We act on all sightings of wild boars and take appropriate actions to control those animals,” he says. “We’re using all the science we can on the removal side, using all the tools available to us.”
However, some experts feel that not enough is being done to prevent the spread of feral pigs, especially in the prairie provinces.
Ryan Brook, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources, calls the situation an “emerging crisis”. He tells Yahoo Canada that the potential spread of the pigs shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Wild pigs now occupy about 900,000 square kilometres of the country, and their populations are expanding at about 80,000 square kilometres per year. The animals are highly reproductive - with females producing large litters up to two times a year - and have low mortality rates.
“We’re seeing a very rapid expansion...although the large majority of that is in the three prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” he says.
He adds that while the wild pigs aren’t being spotted, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. The animal can be elusive, turning nocturnal if they sense danger.
In the U.S., wild pigs are known to roam the southern states, while the northern states are mostly free of the animals. But Brook says the concerns coming from Montana are real and justified, given the limited efforts in Canada to control the population.
“We’ve detected wild pigs very close to the U.S. border in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, certainly less than 20 km from the border,” he says. “Their capacity to move across international border is very, very real.”
Brook says to his knowledge, Alberta is the only province with a strategy and management plan to address the issue. He believes the only way to properly target the problem is to have a national and international strategy in place.
“We can’t pretend to talk about eradication or any kind of reasonable control of these unless there’s a strategy in place and collected efforts to achieve that,” he says. “It’s not unlike a forest fire. If it’s detected early and addressed aggressively, a small fire can be put out. But if a fire gets so large, it becomes out of control. That’s how wild pig populations work.”